I don’t have normal panic attacks. There’s no rapid heart rate or sweaty palms, or fear of not being able to breath. But I do have periods of overwhelming anxiety. Periods when I don’t know what to do with my anxious thoughts so I sit and cry.
My anxiety is constant. It never goes away. Yes, some days I consider it to be better than others, but unless I’m sitting at home in my comfort zone, my anxiety is on full speed. When I say anxiety, I’m referring to mostly social anxiety, ie. fear around people, what to say, what they might say, what they might ask me, fear of looking stupid or mumbling my words. Basically just an overall sense that other people are judging me and being afraid of those judgments.
But I also have anxiety where I think too much about life: what should I do with myself, I haven’t made any major accomplishments, what if I never do this or that, am I going to have enough money this month, what am I going to wear, buy, do today, etc. And then there is food anxiety: what am I going to eat today, should I have this or that, and noticing what other people are eating and balancing my intake against theirs because in some weird world that puts my mind at ease. Body anxiety is in there somewhere too, obviously.
Pretty much anything there is to worry about, I worry about.
Most days I can balance my anxieties, keeping them in check in order to preform the necessary tasks that my day requires: going to work, making dinner, going grocery shopping, having conversations with people, etc. Normal, human things.
But I’ve realized that I have two modes when it comes to my anxiety. Want and need. The things that I need to do, such as work and make money, is something that I can do without too much of my thoughts getting in the way. I mean of course my anxiety is always with me at work, but I am able to push it aside for the most part.
Then there are the things I know I don’t necessarily need to do, so those things I’ll avoid like the plague. Parties, social events, family gatherings, walking in public, going places by myself. These are the things that trigger my anxiety attacks because I know I can get away with avoiding them, but I am usually pressured into going either by someone else or by my own guilt.
What happens is that I feel like I literally can’t handle the situation or I picture myself not being able to handle it, by typically sitting by myself, avoiding conversation at all costs, feeling left out, feeling misplaced unimportant, forgotten, unhappy, you get the point. So if I know I’ll feel these things, then why would I put myself through them by choice?
That’s always my argument when I’m trying to explain this to other people. Why put myself through a traumatic event when I can just stay home and be comfortable being alone?
So my attacks typically start with me saying I don’t want to go, trying to explain the situation to someone, then my thoughts get out of hand, I start thinking about all of the worst possible things that could happen and how I will feel while being there, and I break down in tears. The thoughts and feelings seem perfectly reasonable and real at the time, but to someone else they seem completely irrational.
I’m just going to end up all alone in the corner and everyone is going to wonder why I’m so weird.
People will constantly judge me based on what I will say, but more importantly what I won’t say.
Many more thoughts run through my mind, which then leads to me getting overwhelmed, crying, panicking. Usually two things happen after my attacks: I feel better after getting the fear out and end up going anyway, or I get my way and I go home.
There have been two occasions where my attacks have caused me to completely avoid the situation while simultaneously being in the middle of the situation. Basically, meaning there was no way out of going, and my attack didn’t stop. So I go, say hello or whatever and then stay out of sight for most of the time, in another room by myself somewhere. Sad, I know. And this makes the whole situation ten times worse because it’s embarrassing. I can’t face the party so I hide and then people end up questioning what’s wrong with me, if not to others, at least in their heads. Or maybe that is my anxiety talking again.
Anyways, in the last seven years, this has happened twice, which is pretty good, but disappointing because the first time it happened was back in 2010 and the second time was last week…
So I’m not sure what happened in between those years, I guess maybe I didn’t have to go to any parties or celebrations, or at least ones I didn’t want to go to.
But I’m upset with myself because it feels like shit when I let my anxiety control my life. It also feels like shit knowing that this behavior can really make other people frustrated and angry with me. I don’t like to disturb the peace so when I do, it physically hurts.
In part I can say it’s not my fault, but when it comes down to it, it is. I have the opportunity to push past the fear, be bigger than it, but I don’t sometimes. I just let the thoughts take over and I start sinking without even trying to swim.
I guess the thing that messes me up the most is that I still haven’t figured out how to deal with these situations. My coping mechanism is still to avoid, make excuses, push the problem away, but we all know how well that works. I have tried deep breathing and it does help, I have to admit. It really does calm me down and helps my mind relax. Drinking helps, obviously. Having a drink allows my mind to chill out and for me to not take things to personally. But drinking can’t be a coping strategy.
The best way to deal with my anxiety, and I hate this answer, is just to fucking face it. Face it head on. Go to the damn parties, gatherings, whatever. Do the thing that scares you.
I hate admitting it, but this method works. It’s freakin painful, but it works. Facing fear is the best way to deal with it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But yes, it helps you grow.